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Salvation in Passive Voice

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Something you might notice about my writing style is that I too frequently revert to passive voice. It’s a bad habit. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have known the difference, much less even cared before I was in college. Grammar always bored me to death in high school. It was like math but with words. (I hated math too.)
Surprisingly, the change of heart didn’t come from an amazing literature class with a wannabe Dead Poets Society professor. It was a class called Biblical Exegesis, a fancy way of saying that we were dissecting Scripture. We were in the middle of Paul’s letter to the Romans when we encountered this passage:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (2)Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Rom. 12:1-2)

If that doesn’t make you want to take a passive verb out on a date, let me explain. A passive verb is when a noun is being acted upon, as opposed to an action verb where the noun is acting upon the direct object. It’s a backwards sentence orientation that dramatically impacts the meaning of the statement.

Going Passive

When Paul uses passive voice, he does so intentionally. Romans 12 is no exception. Notice how he switches from active voice in vs. 1 (present your bodies as a living sacrifice) to passive voice in vs. 2 (do not be conformed…but be transformed…).

In the first verse, Paul is directly commanding the Romans to offer their bodies, their entire selves as a sacrifice to God. In other words, worship Christ in all you do. Submit to his plans, his direction, and his will for your life.

But then we get into vs. 2. This is the result of the first verse. He is reminding them not to be conformed by the world’s standards. Don’t get trapped in the world’s priorities or perceptions of truth.

Instead, he says to be transformed. He goes passive here. In other words, the transforming of our lives isn’t the result of our doing. We aren’t acting to transform ourselves. As a result of the giving of our lives as an act of worship to God, he transforms us!

Who Cares?

This was a liberating moment for me as a Christian. In an 8:30AM class after only 4 hours of sleep as a sophomore in college, God broke into my life using grammar.

I’m a Southern Baptist and both my favorite and least favorite thing about our denomination is our focus on personal spiritual disciplines. If you go to a Southern Baptist church, you know the routine. We are encouraged to read our Bibles every day, pray more, stay active in church, and try to sin less. These are all good things that help us grow as Christians when they are done with the right perspective.

Unfortunately, we rarely have the right perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I felt like a superior Christian when I was growing up because I managed to read my Bible every day for several weeks straight. On the other hand, I just as often felt that God was unhappy with me when I failed to do so or when a particular sin became an overwhelming struggle for me. (That was most of the time.)

You see, I was trying to transform myself as if reading my Bible everyday magically made me a better Christian. I was so focused on what I was doing for God that I gave little thought to whether or not my heart was even surrendered to him. I would fall back into sin and feel crushed by the idea that it was up to me to manage it.

Bringing it Home

God isn’t calling us to transform ourselves. We can’t and he knew that. That’s why he sent Jesus into our world to rescue us from ourselves. But when we surrender our lives to him on a daily basis, it’s a game changer. When we learn to rest in him rather than fight sin off with our Bibles, he gives us the strength, courage, and wisdom to be less conformed by the world and more transformed by the renewing of our minds.

In other words, it’s not up to you to make yourself a better person. You can’t but you serve a God who will transform you from the inside out when you surrender your innermost self to him.

Thank God for passive voice.

Posted in: Theology

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